Bette hasn’t changed – still and always The Divine Miss M
Friday, Aug. 19, 1983
By C.P. Smith
Cabaret – that ent e r t a inment f o rm consisting of song, dance and as many laughs as could be f i t t ed in between the other two – has never proved compatible wi th rock and roll performers.
Perhaps it was the relative inarticulateness of so many of the f o rm’s early performers, or just that rock’s social implications forced the artists of the ’60s to challenge ( r a t h er than merely entert a in) their audiences.
An ywa y, the bottom line is that – with one exception – there have been no unabashed cabaret performers since the last of the Rat Pack’s occasional get-togethers on Vegas stages. However, that exception is a mighty big one who
brought her salty mouth, bumpercar figure and impressive talents to Orange County for the first time ever Wednesday.
It’s been over a decade since Bette Midler f i r st poked her nose -out of the Continental Baths in New York and overnight turned a lowlife gig into a larger-than-life act that vaulted her to national renown. And yet, even though she made movies and was a regular on the “Tonight Show” couch, there was never any question that The Divine Miss M was part of the hip
and now, rather than a pop throwback.
In lesser hands, a disco-ish background ( B a r ry Manilow did her arr angements for awhile) and a decided taste for the camp ( the saucy remake of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was her biggest early hit) would have dated most entertainers, but there’s a resilience and vitality to Midler that has kept her going. Wednesday she was her inevitable self, and
wa t ching her strut around the stage – the personification of pe r forming energy – you f e lt that certain charge that
only the really special talents can generate.
This is all the more impressive because the show Midler served up was largely the same one she’s been delivering forever. Midler’s performances are punc tua t ed by abrupt shifts in tempo and mood – Bette goes f rom solemn to sick
f a s t er t h an anyone else alive. The two-set concert was f r agment ed into signposted styles – there was
“outrageous,” “touching,” “raunchy,” ” f r ank,” “shamelessly maudl in,” and “outright tasteless” . . . seeing Bette is like being tossed into a schizophrenic’s house of mirrors.
The musical end of the event, as usual, left more than a little something to be desired. Midler the singer is less technically proficient than capable of infusing emotion (sometimes too mu c h) into her vocals. Some of the material – a nice combination of “Theme From a Summer Place” and “Soda and a Souvenir,” and a cold, bristling techno-rock staging of “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” – worked well. On the other hand, she made some curious song choices. Her opening
r e n d i t i on of “Pink Cadi llac” l e ft an a w f ul lot to be desired, and her labored try at “Beast of B u r d e n” was an overproduced example of Mi d l e r ‘s t e n d e n cy to w allow in emotional o v e r k i l l.
As to the h umo r o us i n t e r l u d es it wa sn’t really a que s t ion of . . . her being f u n ny ( t h o u gh she consistently wa s) because Bette’s audience is ador ing and compl e t e ly wi l l i ng to follow anywhe re she goes. Midler plays to her diehard cons t i tuency and s imul t aneous ly renews her bonds w i th them the same way most major comedic f i gur es ( e . g ., R i c h a rd P r y o r, J o h n ny Ca r son, J ames W a t t ) do – she rei n f o r c es
t h e ir expe c t a t ions w i th new wi s e c r a cks based on f a m i l i ar t h eme s. T h u s, she haul ed out her
Sophie T u c k er r o u t i n e, strayed i n to Joan R i v e rs t e r r i t o ry w i th Jane Fonda and Queen of E n g l a nd
joke s, made c r a cks about her br e a s ts and generally kept t h i n gs as loose and r iba ld as possible.
There wa s n ‘t a n y t h i ng about the evening t h at someone who has seen Midl er be fore w o u l d n ‘t expect. The eve r – t a cky Delores DelLago showed up a n d, wi th the H a r l e t ts in t o w, p e r f o rmed a motorized
wh e e l c h a ir revue to the s t r a i ns of a disco medley. There were also p l e n ty of those moments t h at f e ll in
t h at c l o y i n g, near-naus e a t ing a r ea between ” touching” a nd ” shame l e s s ly m a u d l i n ,” a nd Bette made e n o u gh costume changes to m a ke even her h u f f arid p u f f in d i s b e l i e f.
Ma y be t he whole t h i ng d i d n ‘t a dd up to m u ch in the way of cosmic imp o r t a n c e, but it was flashy and
f u n , and it was nice to see t h at 10 y e a rs l a t er the Divine one is still going strong.